The Government Does Not Control Your Football

The FCC's plan to end blackouts will do nothing

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Matt Rourke / AP

Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles warms up as snow falls before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Dec. 8, 2013, in Philadelphia.

You want to see sports blackouts end? Great! Who doesn’t? Once it was thought that the Federal Communications Commission might want to sustain one of professional sports’ most abject policies. But, no, today the FCC, acting on public pressure from the Sports Fans Coalition, among other groups, proposed ending its support for the blackout rules, which allow teams to prohibit telecasts of games in their local markets. This is great news for all sports fans — in 1972. Congratulations, now you can crank up the ol’ hundred-pound Zenith tube and hear Curt Gowdy do the Oilers games.

Fewer and fewer games get blacked out nowadays, but those that do grate NFL fans from Buffalo to San Diego.

The FCC cops to the weakness of its own proposal on page two, in a bit of efficiency-worshipping mealy-mouthedness designed to conceal the commission’s modern-day impotence: “We recognize that elimination of our sports blackout rules alone might not end sports blackouts, but it would leave sports carriage issues to private solutions negotiated by the interested parties in light of current market conditions and eliminate unnecessary regulation.” 

And that’s just the thing: The blackout provisions currently vexing sports fans emerge from the leagues’ own plans to protect their revenues. The blackout rules written over the years by Congress and the FCC serve only to undergird the leagues’ anti-consumer practices. Without the FCC’s stamp of approval, the leagues will have to — what, exactly? Oh, right: keep doing what they’re doing.

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